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With the growing volume of drones in the airspace, dense urban areas will need to evolve from point security deployments to full urban airspace situational awareness. Active radars on aerostats and at multiple fixed sites provide real-time airspace situational awareness. DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) testing involved radar sensors on two large tethered aerostat balloons flying at up to 400 feet above ground level (AGL) over San Diego and National City, as well as fixed building-top and tower mounted locations providing large-area coverage. The sensors were tuned to detect and track small drones and distinguish them from background objects such as buildings, vehicles, and birds. 

The testing assessed how well the system could detect, track and identify over 150 sorties of drones including various commercial off-the-shelf models, similar to those available at electronics stores or online retailers, which simulated unauthorized / unidentified drones flying in the city.

While DARPA’s focus is on protecting U.S. troops from drone attacks in urban settings overseas, the system under development could ultimately help protect U.S. metropolitan areas from potential drone-enabled terrorist threats.

In conjunction with the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington (APL-UW), Echodyne’s EchoGuard and EchoFlight radars provided comprehensive surveillance of drone activity in San Diego’s urban airspace during the testing. San Diego was a natural choice to test this system given the city’s participation in the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program (IPP), according to the company’s website.